I'm winning this goddamn iPhone
March 18, 2007 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to win a free iPhone from an annoying website. Is this possible? What precautions should I take.

On numerous sites there are these annoying pop-ups (or built in ads with sound) that say that you have "won a free ____." Usually obtainment of the product depends upon completely a number of "offers," which require you to sign up for a free trial with a product, start using a new credit card, purchase some item, or perform some other onerous task.

My brother and I want the iPhone, and we're willing to go through Hell to wrestle it from the jaws of one of these nefarious companies.

We're taking a few precautions like starting up a new e-mail account and a new mailbox, printing and copying every receipt and every linked page, scrupulously attending to every offer, etc.

Is it possible to win from these sites? Are there any other precautions we should take? We want to minimize the number of offers that we take that involve purchasing something. How much should we realistically expect to have to spend?
posted by JamesJD to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"How much should we realistically expect to have to spend?"

An iPhone is what, $500 with a contract discount? Even assuming your dodgy website is legit -- and it's probably not -- in order to give you a phone they have to turn some kind of profit. This means that you'll have to spend enough for them to cover the $500ish cost out of their cut of the various marketing affiliate offers. That's probably easily a couple thousand dollars.
posted by majick at 10:33 AM on March 18, 2007

We don't even know what the exact costs and terms involved in getting an iPhone will be, so I'd be very wary of anyone offering one already. What exactly are they offering to pay for? Will they be able to sign up for a contract on your behalf? What type of contract will it be? Steer clear and start saving.
posted by malevolent at 10:42 AM on March 18, 2007

I think, in theory, some of these websites are legit, if by legit you mean that they will eventually send you what they promise. However, that doesn't mean you won't have to go through significant time and expense to do so. If I were you, I would spend some time researching the site in question. You can start at forums like Rate the Offers or the Scam.com forum. If other people say it's worth pursuing, determine in advance how much you'll have to invest. You might check out this tutorial that was floating around awhile ago for just how to do that. Good luck!
posted by theantikitty at 10:43 AM on March 18, 2007

Even assuming that the tasks required of you in order to acquire the iPhone through this method don't require you to spend any money, it's a false economy. Your time is worth money, and the amount of time you will spend completing the required tasks is probably worth more than $500.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:47 AM on March 18, 2007

That's probably easily a couple thousand dollars.

No. I got $500 from one of these sites a couple of years ago. It involved completing about 8(?) offers, and none of them involved the layout of more than $5-10 in shipping. A lot of the offers are "sign up for this free sample and if you don't cancel we'll sign you up for the full product, which will cost you $100 or more, but I was vigilant about making sure to contact each vendor and cancel before the specified date, and I didn't have any trouble. One involved about 10 minutes on the phone with a call center in India where I just had to keep repeating that I wanted to cancel and not sign up for anything else, but several allowed me to cancel online via email.

I spent maybe 5 hours time total (if that) to get the $500, so it was definitely worth my time. I, like you, used a throwaway email address to keep the spam out of my regular mail. I also made sure to sign up for a program that required me to complete offers and not to get stuff by giving them the email addresses of others. I also made sure to click all the way through and see that I could complete enough offers without signing myself up for anything expensive before I stated the process. When the screen tells you to make your selections and then click through to the next stage, you should be able to go to the next page without completing any offers. This will let you get an idea of what offers show up on multiple levels, so you can "save" one for a later level. You can also make sure there's not some catch on the last level that requires you to buy something expensive.

I chose the cash option rather than any "prize", because I wanted to have the flexibility to spend the money on what I wanted. So yes, this is certainly possible. It took maybe 4(?) months from start to finish, but I did end up with a check card for $500 for a minimal amount of effort. So I say, read the fine print, make sure you don't have to buy something expensive or spam your friends, and go for it.
posted by MsMolly at 11:07 AM on March 18, 2007

Not so sure. A friend? of mine got involved in a company promising free iPods about three years ago. It had a complex website and serious investors putting up the advertising cash. He invested quite a lot of money in it. It was a massive pyramid system which collapsed and left everyone angry. He's still running.

Here's another version of the story. It goes on.
posted by grahamwell at 11:20 AM on March 18, 2007

I have done two of these. Your attitude of realizing that there's no such thing as a free lunch (but heavily discounted lunches DO exist) and that its going to be a lot of work are good starts.

My first experience was with a Mac Mini. It took approximately four months to complete, and cost me about $150 dollars and 24 hrs of time to make sure I wasn't billed for stuff, and it also involved me buying some super shady "herbal supplements" for $50. This was the most expensive "offer" and I just ended up throwing them away.

My second experience was with an unlocked RAZR phone - that one was quite a bit easier, with a total cost of about $45. I flipped it on eBay for about $200 - same amount of time to go through, though, and the same amount of time invested to make sure things went smoothly.

All of this started from this article. It give a really realistic rundown of what's involved , and the guy who wrote the articles did a really good job on it. I would recommend it highly.

Oh, and lastly - I can't tell you who I worked with for the Mac Mini, because I was sworn to secrecy (no shit.) However, I can tell you that the phone came from GadgetCity. They were very easy to deal with and made everything pretty clear - the one snafu that happened (I couldn't print off the "certificates" you have to send in to get whatever you were going for), they were very prompt in correcting, which really surprised me.
posted by plaidrabbit at 11:57 AM on March 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

Oh - forgot to mention - DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. Save pdf's, print off receipts, etc. Send all correspondence certified mail, etc. This may not help in an obvious way, but I think that if a company is semi-shady, being put on notice that you sent something certified (and are keeping track of stuff) might motivate them to make good on something they might not have.

Just a thought.
posted by plaidrabbit at 11:59 AM on March 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another important thing to mention if you insist on propping up these bottom-feeders' business model is that pretty much every forum and blog will instantly and permanently ban you if you so much as think about posting a referral link.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 12:02 PM on March 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would have more faith in "free FUBAR" offers once the fubar in question has actually been released to the public and is available for purchase.
posted by mrbill at 1:27 PM on March 18, 2007

If you have to buy anything you have not "won" anything, you , may be, given a consolation gift for your services. If the iphone is indeed ~$500 50 hours at a part time job will net you the money and won't put you at unneeded risk.
posted by edgeways at 2:15 PM on March 18, 2007

I was in one of those free iPod queues a long time ago, and when it was my turn to run through the offers gauntlet, I was struck by how worse these companies were than I had anticipated. The worst one was for some bullshit teeth whitener or something. The deal was "We send you a free sample, but we record your credit card number; You must cancel within 14 days or we charge you $80."

I mean -- it sounds simple enough, right? All you have to do is cancel. But it's unbelievable how far these companies will go to make it nearly impossible to cancel. My instructions were to submit a cancellation email through their online form. When I did that, the page timed out. The next day it 404d. Then the site wouldn't resolve. I checked the whois for a phone number and found they were using a domain proxy. I had 4 days left to cancel my sample and their website wasn't working.

I ended up doing background research on the company through my state's corporation registry -- I found they were doing business under several umbrella organizations, and I found a number that piped me into the front desk of some office building. I had fists of rage at that point, and I began to tear into the guy who answered the phone, but it was obvious to me that he was just some directory service guy. He was able to provide me with a phone number to one of the company's old addresses, but it was disconnected.

On the day my cancellation was due, I figured I'd simply have to wait and try to get my credit card to do a chargeback once the fee got charged. I hopped on the computer just in one last vain attempt to cancel, and *poof* their website worked and said my account had been canceled. I never got a confirmation number or any other kind of verification, but I never got charged for that goddamn tooth whitener either.
posted by Hankins at 3:35 PM on March 18, 2007

posted by cmiller at 7:02 PM on March 18, 2007

I worked for a place that ran things like this. The company owned FreeFlixTix.com, a website where you'd get free movie tickets if you signed up 5 friends for an endless onslaught of spam. The spam was delivered by Moxio, a separate arm of the company.

We easily racked up over 7,000,000 valid mailing addresses and email addresses. After all, the stuff HAS to be valid for you to get your stuff. Fake addresses were easily weeded out.

A small percentage of folks really did get their free movie tickets...just enough to astroturf and say "Dude, it worked for me! I got my tickets! Yeah!" on forums everywhere.
And the higher ups were in tight with the scammers that run Gratis.

I'd encourage you to not participate in crap like this. If you want an iPhone that bad, just get a temporary job.. or *A* job.
posted by drstein at 9:09 PM on March 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

These offers don't include the service charges/phone contracts, do they? I've read that the Iphone is going to cost well over 1000 a year to actually use. Is that so?
posted by amberglow at 9:06 AM on June 3, 2007

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